Batch of Skin-Rotting Cocaine Hits NY and L.A. Streets

| by Kate Wharmby Seldman

A batch of cocaine, cut with an animal deworming drug, is rotting users' skin in two major American cities -- and spreading.

The New York Daily News reports that cocaine in New York and Los Angeles has been found to contain levamisole. This drug is usually used by vets to deworm livestock. It causes skin necrosis in humans -- a condition where the blood vessels under the skin die, making the skin turn black and fall off. The American Academy of Dermatology published a report this month listing six cases of necrosis in people who'd snorted or smoked cocaine cut with levamisole.

The co-author of the AAD study, dermatologist Dr. Mary Gail Mercurio, said the University of Rochester Medical Center had seen five cases of necrosis in the last year. The dead skin usually showed up on the scalp, ears and face, as well as other parts of the body. "It's very alarming," she said. 

KTLA TV in Los Angeles reported that up to 12 patients at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center have been treated for necrosis, making this a bicoastal phenomenon. It's also spreading to other areas of the country: cases have been reported in Washington, Delaware, New Mexico and Canada.

Recently, drug experts say they've seen levamisole be cut with cocaine more and more often over the past two years. Time Magazine reported that the DEA said 70 percent of the nation's cocaine was cut with the drug, as compared to only 30 percent in 2008.

In and of itself, levamisole can make users high, so it makes sense that dealers are using it to cut cocaine.

Necrosis is treated with steroids or blood thinners, but if the patient stops using cocaine, the condition can sometimes clear up on its own. Dr. Noah Craft, another co-author of the AAD study, told KTLA-TV, "In one of the more interesting ones, the patient used cocaine again and developed the same skin reaction again. He then switched drug dealers, and the problem cleared up."


Photos: Nick Dolding/Getty, Getty; KTLA-TV